With all the theory and articles written about how to become a faster runner at any distance, there is one simple thing you must do to improve your speed, your stride and your overall race pace at any distance.
Run 400 intervals.
Really, it’s that simple. There is no other technique for getting faster and knowing you’re getting faster than running 400s.
Whether you’re training for a 5K or a marathon, run 400s at your race pace or slightly faster. As you progress through the training season, simply cut down the rest interval from a 400 to a 300 to a 200 to a 100 jog between intervals. The reduction in rest time builds fitness while you develop a strong sense of pace in proportion to the race.
If you think running 400 intervals is boring and repetitious, you simply aren’t engaged enough in your goals. So make it even tougher, and smarter. Because if you really want to get faster, you should be running your 400 intervals at a pace 10 to 20 seconds faster than your desired race pace.
For example, I want to race my 5Ks in triathlons at 6:30 pace or under. That means I run my 400 intervals at 6:00 pace. Early in the season the rest interval is a full 400 jog, then it drops to a 200. Finally, as the race season approaches, intervals are indeed being bitten off with only a 100 jog between. It’s all at faster than race pace.
It all works whether you race 5:00 pace, 6:00 pace, 7:00 pace or 10:00 pace. You need to run faster than race pace and do repeat 400s at that pace in order to improve your speed and endurance. If you don’t do any other speed training, at least build one workout per week into your schedule where you go to a track and do 400s.
To start, do a set of 6 X 400 to see how your body responds to intervals at race pace with that 400 jog in between. If that goes okay, add two more 400s the next workout. Warm up well (usually a one-mile jog) before each interval session.
You can add more volume and at the same time cut down the intervals as the season goes on. That combined pressure of doing more repeats and allowing yourself less rest builds fitness quicker than any other method in running. It’s a proven way to improve your race times. Runners have been doing 400s this way for as long as there have been tracks.
When you’re finally ready to test your fitness, you run half mile intervals at race pace and guess what? It feels easy. About three weeks out from you race, do a couple 400 repeats to warm up your body and then run a full mile to test your “governor.” Your sense of pace should be well-tuned from practicing the 400 meter distance.
You could give all this training some fancy name like the Principle of Relativity, but honestly, it’s just teaching your brain and body to run at a faster pace so that race pace feels easier. It absolutely works for all runners and at all race distances. If you’re doing a marathon you can throw together a workout featuring 28 400s at race pace and determine as you go along how much interval of rest you need.
Running 400 eliminates the need to count laps or think as you go. Wherever you start, that’s where you finish on the track. Simple. Hard. And it works.